NEBRASKA LEGISLATURE
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Sen. John Stinner

Sen. John Stinner

District 48

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End of Session Update

May 11th, 2018

With legislative session finally over, there are many accomplishments to discuss.

One of my major priorities for the 105th legislative session was to address workforce housing needs.

According to a Nebraska State Chamber of Commerce survey, nearly 70% of respondents indicated there is a housing shortage in their communities. Numerous housing studies have been conducted including Western Nebraska Economic Development in the Panhandle, Norfolk, Kearney, South Central Nebraska, and others. LB496 was a targeted piece of legislation created to address this need.

As an important tool, there are many benefits to this piece of legislation. It gives municipalities the ability to authorize tax-increment-financing, or TIF, for the construction of workforce housing.

TIF enhances development projects without making any changes to the property tax baseline. Any increase in property assessments come from the development project only, and are used to pay for the TIF assessment. It also broadens the tax base from the additional properties added once TIF projects are paid off. Average time to pay off TIF projects is typically 7.5 years, much lower than the 15 year cap. School districts’ tax base remains unchanged, along with other property tax entities.

TIF is an incredibly important tool. In rural communities and certain urban areas, there simply won’t be affordable housing constructed without incentive for developers. Unlike other areas of the country, the Midwest actually has more jobs than workers. In order for companies to fill those jobs, we need suitable housing available for workers to live and raise their families.

The Legislature has also addressed a number of important measures which will provide accountability and transparency to the process. Under LB496, public hearings for workforce housing incentive plans will be separate from the public hearings for TIF redevelopment plans. This should complement LB518, passed last year, which establishes the Rural Workforce Housing Investment Act.

LB874, passed this year, adds additional safeguards to ensure TIF is used responsibly. It requires additional reporting on TIF projects to the Department of Revenue, provides for auditing of TIF projects and notice for public hearings, enhances record keeping processes, and strengthens the “but for” designation when establishing its necessity.

There were a number of other important items passed this year, including $200 million in budget adjustments. This is in addition to the $900 million budget deficit from last year, for a total biennial budget deficit of $1.1 billion.

Over the biennium, I introduced nineteen bills. One was withdrawn and four were procedural, effectively making fourteen in total. Out of those fourteen, nine were either passed outright or amended into other bills before passing.

LB803 will start the process for the Department of Education to provide waivers on early childhood education certification requirements to address workforce shortages in the industry, like the Head Start program being run by Educational Service Unit 13 in Scottsbluff. I would like to thank the Administrator Jeff West for bringing this issue to my attention and for all his hard work for Western Nebraska.

LB802 establishes industry best practices for administering ad revenues received by the Nebraska Tourism Commission. It creates a separate fund, which the Tourism Commission can administer to attract visitors to our state.

LB775 authorizes the Nebraska Game & Parks Commission to use Design Build for its construction and development projects. Design Build will save the state money by allowing the Commission to use more efficient methods of managing projects. It allows the Commission to hire a single managing contractor, instead of requiring it to manage each sub-contractor separately.

Finally, LB100 was signed into law by the Governor which will establish standards of proof for mental health boards when removing disqualifications on the possession of firearms for petitioners. Thank you to Dr. Thomas Perkins of Scottsbluff for his diligence and hard work for our community.

As always, I remain open to your feedback on how I may address the issues that mean most to you. Please do not hesitate to contact my office with any questions you may have. Thank you to those who have taken the time to express their views on various issues. My contact information is located on the right hand side of this webpage.

With only 11 legislative days left, there will be a lot to work on before the close of session on April 18th.

Last Friday the Legislature debated the State’s $8.8 billion two-year budget on Select File, the second round of debate, after failing to advance on Wednesday. So far the Legislature has advanced a proposal to take $100 million from the State’s Cash Reserve Fund, also called the Rainy Day Fund. This leaves $296 million in the Fund.

Included in the budget are provisions to transfer $14.7 million from various cash funds into the General Fund to shore up the State’s $173 million shortfall. These funds were determined as sustainable and stable, coming from a source of revenue that is at least equal to expenditures.

For the mainline budget, the Appropriations Committee recommended reductions to the Governor’s across-the-board second year biennium cuts from 4% to 2% for state agencies and 4% to 1% for higher education. This was due to a more favorable state revenue forecast. The Committee also had to address approximately $83 million in deficit increases. Within the Department of Health and Human Services, Child Welfare’s request for an additional $55 million was the largest.

Unfortunately, the Legislature came to an impasse for a second time on Friday and failed to receive the votes necessary to advance, despite receiving a 9-0 vote to advance from committee and being advanced by the Legislature from General File, the first round of debate. There will be continued debate until the Legislature meets its obligation to pass a budget.

The language being debated would bar health clinics from receiving federal Title X funding if they perform, assist, provide counsel in favor of, or refer for abortions. There was lengthy debate on concerns for access to services and concerns over the State losing Title X funding due to violations under federal law.

A few of my bills have also been addressed by the Legislature over the past few weeks.

LB775, the State Park System Construction Alternatives Act, was signed into law last Wednesday. It would allow the use of Design Build for Nebraska Game & Parks construction projects. Design Build will allow Game & Parks to contract with a single entity to handle all subcontracts instead of managing all subcontractors itself. This method will save the State time and money on more efficient construction methods.

LB802 was another one of my bills which was amended into the budget and sits on Select File. It would create the Promotional Cash Fund for the Tourism Commission. It establishes a better method of handling ad revenues and puts them into a designated fund, implementing industry best practices.

LB803 was also advanced to Select File earlier this month. As amended, it would grant the Department of Education the authority to grant a waiver to certification requirements for early childhood educators. If signed into law, the Department will have to develop new rules and regulations to carry out the waiver process and otherwise keep early childhood education programs in compliance. This bill addresses workforce shortages, such as the one we see with the Head Start Program in Western Nebraska.

The Legislature debated a bill that I had prioritized in early March, LB98, introduced by Sen. Curt Friesen to extend the sunset on Natural Resources Districts’ 3¢ levy authority for groundwater management projects. Unfortunately, it was defeated. Without this levy authority, NRDs will have to resort to other methods such as water use restrictions or user fees.

Finally, LB496 sits on Select File. It would allow the use of tax increment financing for the construction of workforce housing. It was debated last year, but fell just one vote short of passing a filibuster. I am looking forward to debate later in the session.

As always, I remain open to your feedback on how I may address the issues that mean most to you. Please do not hesitate to contact my office with any questions you may have. Thank you to those who have taken the time to express their views on various issues. My contact information is located on the right hand side of this webpage.

2018 Legislative Update

March 2nd, 2018

Session is short this year but we have a full docket of legislative items to accomplish. Public hearings finished this week and we move on to all-day debate. Things will pick up speed as we proceed to late night session beginning on March 12th.

This year I’ve introduced 7 bills. 2 of those to-date have been advanced out of committee. That brings my total to 14 introduced since last year, excluding budget bills and one which was withdrawn. In all, 5 have passed outright or by amendment, 1 is on the last round of debate, 2 on the second round, 1 on the first round, and 5 held in committee.

So far the Legislature has passed one of my carryover bills, LB100, which standardizes proof of evidence needed in restoral of rights revoked by mental health boards. Thanks to the important work of Dr. Thomas Perkins from Scottsbluff and Jerry Ostdiek from Gering on mental health issues, this legislation was made possible.

LB775 sits on the last round of debate, Final Reading. I introduced it this year to adopt the State Park System Construction Alternatives Act, which allows Game & Parks to use design build as a cost effective and efficient construction alternative. Design build works by allowing the State to contract a project out to one managing entity versus contracting with each individual subcontractor.

LB611 and LB496 have both made it to the second round of debate, Select File. I introduced LB611 last year in partnership with the Platte Institute, an organization that advocates for tax and regulatory reform. It would have required state agencies to provide a detailed inventory of federal funds including contingency plans in the event of a drawback in funding. Unfortunately, it has been held back procedurally due to a state agency’s fiscal note.

LB496 also sits on Select File, which would allow the use of tax increment financing for the construction of workforce housing. It was debated last year, but fell just one vote short of passing a filibuster. I am grateful that my friend and colleague, Sen. Matt Williams, used his Senator designation priority to give it the time needed to address concerns and work with our fellow Senators.

LB803 was recently advanced to the first round of debate, General File, and given a Speaker priority designation. With the amendment, it would give the Education Department authority to provide a waiver on early childhood education certification requirements. As part of the Buffett Institute’s Early Childhood Workforce Commission, I want to ensure our families have access to early childhood education programs by addressing workforce shortages in rural areas and maintain quality.

This year I introduced LB801, the Panhandle Beginnings Act, which would fund an innovative day school/day treatment pilot project to address mental health issues for school-aged children in the Panhandle. With all the tragic mental health issues experienced across the country, a comprehensive program capable of reintegration can get to the problem early on.

Thank you to Educational Services Unit 13 Administrator Jeff West, his staff, and Region 1 Behavioral Health Authority Administrator Barbara Vogel for all their hard work on LB801. I’d also like to thank Scottsbluff Public Schools Superintendent Rick Myles and all 21 school superintendents from the Panhandle for their support, as well as support from the Scottsbluff City Council, Scottsbluff Police Chief Kevin Spencer, and many others in the community.

Lastly, I used my Senator designation priority to support the passage of LB98, introduced by Sen. Curt Friesen to extend the sunset on Natural Resources Districts’ 3¢ levy authority, which is restricted to groundwater projects. Nebraska has a tradition of responsible water management, and this levy authority is a crucial tool to allow our NRDs to address the Department of Natural Resource’s second increment.

As always, I remain open to your feedback on how I may address the issues that mean most to you. Please do not hesitate to contact my office with any questions you may have. Thank you to those who have taken the time to express their views on various issues. My contact information is located on the right hand side of this webpage.

As Chairman of the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee, part of my responsibility is to hedge “mission-critical” state services against the effects of a slowing economy. A struggling farm economy and a sluggish U.S. and global economy all have left their mark on Nebraska’s budget.

However, these factors are not the only budgeting issues. Changes in Washington also affect Nebraska’s fiscal health.

Many of Nebraska’s daily commitments to healthcare, education, the military, and other state services come from your federal tax dollars. Roughly 30 percent of Nebraska’s total budget depends on these tax dollars.

The level of dependency on Washington varies from state to state. This is why other states have put processes in place to make information on federal funds easier to access and understand. State lawmakers need this process codified in law to ensure that long-term decisions are well informed.

Receiving federal funds can be costly if the obligations are not fully understood or if the federal government draws back its funding. In some cases, participating in a federal grant may require Nebraska to spend more state tax dollars on a specific program than it otherwise would.

State agencies that regularly interact with federal departments have access to information about the contractual obligations, or “strings” attached. Often times, however, the Legislature does not.

LB611 will give future legislators a mechanism to easily access information on federal programs. This bill will give more detail on the impact of federal programs, how they affect individual agencies, and what that means for the state’s total budget.

I want to provide transparency and adequate information on our state’s fiscal health to Nebraska taxpayers and decision makers. That’s why LB611 became a committee priority and the Legislature voted in favor of the bill earlier in January with broad bipartisan support.

LB611 creates a federal funding inventory for Nebraska. It would require most state agencies to submit a report that will allow the Legislature and Nebraskans we represent to keep track of the federal grants and obligations we’ve committed to. LB611 would take the information our various state agencies already have on federal grants and inventory them into a report.

The report would also provide a risk assessment and contingency plans in the event of significant reductions in federal funding. This information will help future committee members assess changes to be made when new administrations enter into the White House.

For example, President Trump plans to introduce new welfare reform policies this year. That means Nebraska is likely to see cuts to programs within the Department of Health and Human Services. The Legislature needs to be able to plan for these changes.

Government shutdowns, sequesters, or significant cuts in the budget following federal tax reform may also pose future threats to Nebraska’s own budget certainty.

LB611 will give the Legislature the needed data to see which programs are mandatory and which are optional. It will also allow the Legislature to see which programs have sunset dates and ensure that the optional federal programs fulfill state agencies’ purpose. Once the Legislature has that information, lawmakers can measure the strings attached to these funds and evaluate the impact of the programs currently being funded.

LB611 will make it easier to act on the interests of constituents, instead of being guided only by what Washington mandates. With higher quality information, a better informed approach can be made about which services our constituents expect and what the budget will allow.

The Legislature has already taken its first vote on LB611, with a strong showing of bipartisan support. Legislative bills must go through three successful rounds of voting to be sent to the Governor. I would greatly appreciate your efforts in contacting state senators to ask them to continue their support of LB611.

As always, I remain open to your feedback on how I may address the issues that mean most to you. Please do not hesitate to contact my office with any questions you may have. Thank you to those who have taken the time to express their views on various issues. My contact information is:  Senator John P. Stinner, District 48 State Capitol, PO Box 94604, Lincoln NE  68209-4604; telephone: 402-471-2802; email: jstinner@leg.ne.gov.

I’m ready for a brand new year in the Legislature. There’s going to be a lot on our plate this session and very little time to accomplish our priorities.

My #1 priority as Chairman of the Appropriations Committee will be balancing the budget. The Legislature is facing another budget shortfall, this time to the tune of $200 million.

The Governor has been doing his due diligence in making sure the state runs as efficiently as possible to address the shortfall. Since last year, the Governor has put a hiring freeze on state personnel except for essential positions, reducing agency headcount by approximately 500 and eliminating another 1,500 open positions. The Governor has also been promoting process improvement initiatives in licensing divisions, the Department of Labor, and state call centers.

As we get into the session, I expect the Governor will likely promote property and income tax reform, K-12 funding, justice reinvestment programs, and fixing an ailing corrections system. As the Appropriations Committee begins its work in balancing the budget, we will have to start with these priorities as we address others in the Legislature.

One of the biggest topics this year will be property tax reform. There are different approaches with various groups proposing their ideas on how it should be done. As a state government, we must live within our means and balance the budget, but as policy makers we must also consider the implications of the decisions and cuts that we make. The work that we do always has long-term side effects.

It’s important to think of property tax reform as a comprehensive package. We have to ensure that our revenue sources are sustainable and weigh the pros and cons of the cuts we make so that we do not create more problems than we solve. One of the best ways we can do this is by giving over as much local control as possible. This is at the core of my philosophy in governance.

Two bills currently on the legislative docket that follow this philosophy are LB98 and LB496. LB98, introduced by Senator Curt Friesen, would extend the 3₵ levy authority for Natural Resource Districts which are fully or over-appropriated in their respective river basins. Currently, the levy limit is set to sunset.

Another bill following this local governance principle is my bill allowing the use of tax increment financing (TIF) for workforce housing in rural Nebraska: LB496. In rural Nebraska, lack of workforce housing presents a significant barrier to the growth of our communities. The problem is that many of these housing projects simply will not happen without TIF.

Contributing to this issue is the issue of outmigration and difficulty attracting talent to live and work in our communities because of the housing shortage. A study commissioned by the Western Nebraska Economic Development group, of which Scottsbluff City is a member, it was concluded that the Panhandle region significantly lacks supply of affordable housing. LB496 will give developers the tools they need to grow our communities.

Investment in early childhood education will be another topic of lengthy discussion this session.

Research studies indicate that quality early childhood education can lead to significant improvement down the road. The Brookings Institution published “The Current State of Scientific Knowledge on Pre-Kindergarten Effects.” This report concludes that preschool has a uniformly positive impact on Kindergarten readiness, as well as potential long-term benefits. The report recommends, “…a continued investment toward improving preschool programs…”

Earlier this year, I was part of a panel discussion on early childhood education in Nebraska, hosted by the Buffett Early Childhood Institute. During the discussion, I shared with the panel my experience on the school board in Gering. What we have seen in rural Nebraska is a significant portion of the population that isn’t ready for school upon entering kindergarten.

That’s the results of a statewide survey conducted by Gallup in cooperation with the Buffett Institute. Over 7,100 residents in Nebraska participated. Of those participants, 68% of respondents recognize the positive long-term impact of early childhood education, while only 10% felt Nebraska’s youth are adequately prepared for school when they start in Kindergarten.

I look forward to debate on legislative priorities this year and hearing from you on what those should be.

As always, I remain open to your feedback on how I may address the issues that mean most to you. Please do not hesitate to contact my office with any questions you may have. Thank you to those who have taken the time to express their views on various issues. My contact information is located on the right hand side of this webpage.

Sen. John Stinner

District 48
Room #1004
P.O. Box 94604
Lincoln, NE 68509
Phone: (402) 471-2802
Email: jstinner@leg.ne.gov
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